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 County Board of Supervisors Moves Forward with Ordinance to Ban Single-Use Carryout Bags


Today, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors declared, in a 4-1 vote, its intent to establish an ordinance that bans single-use carryout bags distributed by retail businesses in the unincorporated areas of Santa Clara County. Supervisors directed staff to draft a proposed ordinance to be brought back to the Board by October for approval. In the meantime, County staff will reach out to businesses to achieve voluntary compliance.

Approximately 600 single-use carryout bags are used per person each year in California, according to the California Department of Recycling. This ban would serve as part of a regional effort aimed at reducing single-use bags littering sides of roads, damaging drainage systems, harming wildlife, and polluting local creeks and streams.

"Over the past year, I have heard from many residents that support banning single-use bags," said Supervisor Ken Yeager, President of the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors. "People are becoming increasingly aware of the very real harm these bags pose to our environment."

As part of its considerations, the County will comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires the County to consider the environmental consequences of adopting the ordinance. The County will review an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) being prepared by the City of San Jose as part of the City’s push to ban both plastic and paper single-use carryout bags within City of San Jose limits. If the County determines that an EIR is required under CEQA, the County may model its EIR report after the City of San Jose, saving the County the effort and expense of a separate EIR. The EIR would provide detailed information on the potentially significant environmental effects of a ban, how those effects might be minimized, and alternatives.

Through the County Recycling and Waste Reduction Commission, made up of elected officials throughout Santa Clara County, staff is working to enact consistent policies across local jurisdictions. Currently, the City of Sunnyvale is exploring a similar ban on single-use bags, while the City of Palo Alto has enacted a ban on single-use plastic bags. Work at the local and regional level may also spur State action on the issue.

Supervisor Yeager first brought the issue of single-use bags to the Board in September 2008. In March 2009, the Board approved a phased approach to banning single-use carryout bags, which included public education and surveying local retailers in the unincorporated areas. A total of 52 retailers in the unincorporated areas of Santa Clara County are expected to be affected by any new policy enacted. Those retailers account for an estimated 32,000 paper and plastic single-use carryout bags on an annual basis.

The County of Santa Clara Integrated Waste Management Division has been working over the past 18 months to track reusable bag usage and educate the public of the benefits of reusable bags. Over a six-month period, an increase from 8% in July 2009 to 10% in January 2010 in reusable bag use was observed by County staff conducting site surveys at grocery stores in and around the Unincorporated areas. While this is a positive trend, the new ordinance aims to increase the use of reusable bags dramatically in Santa Clara County.

"Our staff has been reaching out to businesses and residents for some time on the positive environmental impact of reusable bags," said Kevin O’Day, Acting Director of the County’s Agriculture and Environmental Management Department. "Through numerous newsletter articles, reusable bag giveaways, staff visits to local store managers and more, our staff has put the word out that reusable bags are a good thing to bring with you whenever and wherever you shop."

The proposed ordinance, intended to ban paper and plastic bags distributed by retail businesses to customers at time of checkout, would exclude restaurants, non-profit organizations and social organizations.

The proposed ordinance may provide some exceptions including: allowing retailers to provide plastic or paper bags for items such as fresh produce, meat, frozen foods, prepared foods, bakery items, plants, prescription drugs, small utility bags at hardware stores and greeting card "header" bags; allowing plastic bags used to protect delivered newspapers; and permitting the sale of single-use paper bags only if they are 100% recyclable and contain a minimum of 40% post-consumer waste. These "green" single-use bags may be sold at the retailer's cost with the retailer keeping the remittance for cost recovery.

Thirty of the 52 businesses that would be impacted by the ban are in District One. Supervisor Don Gage, who opposed moving forward with the ordinance, expressed his concern that the County not rush into a decision to ban single-use bags because he believes more stakeholder input is needed.

Media Contact: Gwendolyn Mitchell/Laurel Anderson, Office of Public Affairs (408) 299-5119, Jim Weston, Communications Aide, Office of President Ken Yeager (408) 299-5040, Zachary DeVine, Agriculture and Environment Dept, (408) 282-3186
Posted: April 13, 2010